Regulation of cell number in the mammalian gastrointestinal tract: the importance of apoptosis

P. A. Hall, P. J. Coates, B. Ansari, D. Hopwood

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    The regulation of cell number in adult tissues is determined by the balance of cell production and cell loss. In the gastrointestinal tract, where there are well defined zones of proliferation and migration of both epithelial cells and associated fibroblasts, it is widely held that cell loss occurs by shedding into the gut lumen. Since the evidence for this is not compelling, we investigated the distribution and amount of apoptosis in the normal mammalian gut. In the stomach, small intestine and colon of rodents and man, there is a small number of apoptotic bodies in the epithelium and in the immediate sub-epithelial connective tissue. Engulfment by adjacent epithelial cells and sub-epithelial macrophages accounts for the removal of apoptotic bodies. Apoptotic bodies are not randomly distributed but are found towards the distal end of the known cellular migration routes of both epithelial and mesenchymal cells. Furthermore, consideration of the absolute numbers of apoptotic bodies, their rapid clearance and the dimensions of the small intestinal villi and colonic crypts indicates that the cell loss in the normal murine intestine can largely be explained on the basis of the observed apoptosis. Despite being inconspicuous in histological material, apoptosis probably accounts for the bulk of cell loss in the gut and is a central feature of the regulation of cell number in adult tissues.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3569-3577
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Cell Science
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 1994


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